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John On Wine – Mendocino wines win huge at 2014 CA State Fair

Party at McFadden coming up

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on July 3, 2014 by John Cesano

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The California State Fair starts next week, but the Commercial Wine Competition took place June 4-6, 2014, with 74 judges on 18 panels tasting 2,829 wine entries. On Tuesday, June 24, the Best of Show wine winners were invited to Sacramento where Golden Bear Trophies were handed out in recognition of California’s best wines.

First up, Ted Bennett, owner, and Jim Klein, winemaker, received the first wine award of the day for the 2013 Navarro Vineyards Late Harvest Riesling, the 2014 California State Fair Best of Show Dessert winner.

Next, Guinness McFadden received a Golden Bear Trophy for his NV McFadden Vineyard Sparkling Cuvee Brut, the 2014 California State Fair Best of Show Sparkling winner. Guinness also received a Joint Resolution from Assemblyman Chesbro and Senator Evans for his contributions as an organic and eco-friendly grower in Mendocino County for more than 40 years.

Ed St. Johns, owner, picked up his 2014 California State Fair Best of Show Pink award for the 2013 Pedroncelli Signature Selection Dry Creek Valley Dry Rosé of Zinfandel.

Carol Shelton was thrilled that the Best of Show White went to her 2012 Carol Shelton Wines Coquille Blanc, a Rhone style white blend. I worked with Carol for eight years, in the last Millennium, and I adore her. Kudos!

2010 Sterling Vineyards Platinum Napa Valley Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon was the competition’s Best of Show Red winner, and Harry Hansen picked up the award.

Fetzer earned a Golden Bear for Best Value wine, the 2011 Fetzer Valley Oaks Moscato.

Finally, Jim and Ted from Navarro were invited back up onto the stage; Navarro earned the California Golden State Winery of the Year award, another Golden Bear trophy, for being the top awarded winery of the competition. With three wines receiving Double Gold and 98 Points or better, Navarro was far and away the top winery for 2014.

Mendocino County wineries earned four of the seven Golden Bear Trophies awarded from the California State Fair for wine: Navarro – Golden State Winery of the Year, Navarro – Best of Show Dessert, McFadden – Best of Show Sparkling, and Fetzer – Best Value; 98 points and Double Gold, each and every one of them.

Two of the other winners, Sterling and Carol Shelton buy Mendocino grapes to make some of their wines. Sterling buys Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling grapes from McFadden Farm in Potter Valley. Carol Shelton buys Zinfandel and Carignane grapes from Cox Vineyards in Ukiah, and is talking about possibly buying Sauvignon Blanc grapes from McFadden Farm, as well. Interestingly, Navarro has bought Gewurztraminer grapes from McFadden Farm in the past too. Fetzer also has bought McFadden Farm grapes. Somebody clearly has a great farm. The quality of grapes in Mendocino County, the wines they can produce, is evidenced by the concentration of Golden Bear Trophies won by Mendocino County wineries at this year’s CA State Fair.
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The annual party at McFadden Farm in Potter Valley is one of only two wine club parties I will go to every year, the other is the Blending Party at Testa Vineyard in Calpella. If I changed jobs, or retired, I would pay to come to these two parties without fail. I’ll write about Testa’s party in another column. This year’s annual party at McFadden Farm will be held next Saturday, July 12, from to 11 p.m.

Tickets are available online at www.McFaddenFarm.com or through the tasting room, (707) 744-8463.

The fun kicks off with a wine and appetizer reception at 5 p.m. on the banks of the upper Russian River on McFadden Farm at the north end of Potter Valley.

The adventurous may enjoy taking a farm walking tour with Guinness McFadden.

Dinner will be served a little after 6 p.m., and the menu, prepared by Chef Fontaine McFadden and several of her chef buddies, will be an assortment of locally raised grilled pork and lamb, vegetable dishes, salads and desserts. Our neighbor Mac Magruder, will be providing locally raised pork and lamb for grilling again.

Do I need to mention that McFadden wines and sparkling Brut will flow?

Guests will enjoy special first and last tastes of McFadden wines. In what has become a tradition, there will be a first tasting of a new release at the party: the 2012 McFadden Brut Rose – McFadden’s first Brut Rose ever – will pour. There will also be last tastes of a few wines that are otherwise sold out, saved in the library until the party.

Great news: the Kelly McFarling Band will return this year to provide live music.

After dinner, there will be raffle giveaways and a special sale offer exclusive to attendees.

As night falls, the party heats up as guests dance the night away, under the stars, on the river bank.

If you enjoy camping for free, we’ve got lots of room on our 500 acre farm to pitch a tent for a night of camping. Of the 225 who will attend, we expect many will also stay overnight for camping.

Tickets are $60 each, but McFadden Wine Club members can purchase two tickets at just $50 each. Children 12 and under are just $20 each. Tickets can be purchased online at www.McFaddenFarm.com, or by calling the McFadden Farm Stand & Tasting Room in Hopland between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. daily at (707) 744-8463. I hope to see you there.

 

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Most days, I drive to Hopland to open my tasting room for Guinness McFadden. Yesterday, I drove to the California State Capitol to see Guinness receive a Best of Show Golden Bear trophy for his sparkling brut, the best of the best at the California State Fair Commercial Wine Competition.

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Each county in the state has a window box to promote their county. I saw that our county promotes Anderson Valley’s Pinot Noir Festival, a great event, but doesn’t mention Hopland Passport, inland Mendocino’s biggest wine event. It is hard to get folks outside the county to visit Hopland when the folks who do the tourism marketing do not tell folks about us.

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I met Guinness McFadden and Judith Bailey inside the state capitol. The rotunda is beautiful and gold gilt is everywhere to be seen.

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At 9:00 a.m., we moved into the Governor’s office.

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Navarro winemaker Jim Klein called everyone he knew to say, “Guess where I am calling you from. I’m calling you from the Governor’s office.” He also protected the pastries from me.

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Ted Bennett, owner of Navarro in Mendocino County’s Anderson Valley relaxes before the day’s award ceremony.

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Harry Hansen of Sterling Vineyards in Napa County – the folks with the tram – converses with Guinness McFadden about grapes Sterling buys from McFadden Farm and about people they know in common. Meanwhile, Judith keeps up with social media.

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California State Fair Commercial Wine competition co-Head Judge and Sacramento Bee wine writer Mike Dunne talks with Mitch – Mr. Carol Shelton.

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Carol Shelton in animated conversation. I had the great pleasure and honor to work with Carol for eight years and together we won a lot of awards; Carol won a Golden State Winery of the Year bear trophy for being the top awarded winemaker at the CA State Fair, and I won three consecutive Expert exhibitor awards from Exhibitor Magazine for marketing and selling her wine. We also had a great time working together at a Meet the Winemaker Dinner at Zinfandel in Chicago. I adore Carol!

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Guinness chatted with Rick Pickering, CEO of the CA State Fair.

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At 9:45 a.m., we moved outside to the east steps of the Capitol. City folks stood in the sun, country folks had the sense to find shade from a tree.

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Bears, lots of bears; maybe more bears that at the Russian River on a three day weekend. I see bears!

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Words that should be, but likely won’t be, written by Wine Spectator and Connoisseurs’ Guide to California Wines: “The best wines in California are coming from Mendocino County.” Fully half of the Best of the Best wines were made by Mendocino County wineries; Navarro, McFadden, and Fetzer. Sterling and Carol Shelton buy Mendocino County fruit to make some of their wines too. The biggest winner of the CA State Fair Wine Competition, as I see it, is Mendocino County!

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I don’t know whether I wanted to see Guinness get his bear or whether I wanted to display the bear in our tasting room more.

L-R, Navarro Best of Show Dessert, Pedroncelli Best of Show Pink, Carol Shelton Best of Show White, Sterling Best of Show Red, McFadden Best of Show Sparkling, and Fetzer Best Value.

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While waiting until 10:00 a.m., Guinness and Judith chatted with Seana Doughty and Dave Dalton of Bleating Heart Cheese.

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That big blue ribbon is nice, but folks came today for bear trophies. This year, there were 2,829 wine entries from 746 winery brands. Seventy-four judges on 18 panels awarded 2,068 medals, including 52 Double Gold, 217 Gold, 1,085 Silver, and 714 Bronze.

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No award was ever given at the capitol without a speech, or speeches. Awards were presented by Jim Houston, deputy secretary, California Department of Food and Agriculture, Paul Martin, deputy Director, Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development, Rick Pickering, CEO, California Exposition & State Fair, Sonney Chong, board chair, California Exposition & State Fair, and Rick Kushman and Mike Dunne, California State Fair chief wine judges. On the far left is CA Assemblyman, the Honorable Wesley Chesbro, who would make a very special presentation.

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Dave Dalton and Seana Doughty of Bleating Heart Cheese in Tomales won two Golden Bear trophies. Best of Show Cow Cheese for Moolicious Blue and Best of Show other udder (sheep) for Fat Bottom Girl.

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Jim and Ted received the first wine award of the day for the 2013 Navarro Vineyards Late Harvest Riesling, the 2014 California State Fair Best of Show Dessert winner.

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Navarro’s 2013 Late Harvest Riesling also took a Double Gold Medal.

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Navarro’s 2013 Late Harvest Riesling was rated 98 points.

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The longest presentation of the day was for Guinness McFadden. Get ready for many pictures.

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As Assemblyman Chesbro spoke, a framed resolution appeared, and Guinness began to suspect that he wasn’t getting only a bear.

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Don’t get me wrong, a bear as recognition for producing the Best of Show Sparkling would be great, Guinness was pleased as punch to be invited to the Capitol to receive it, but at this point he is getting quite a surprise.

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Guinness received a Joint Resolution from the CA Assembly and Senate in recognition of his over 40 years of organic growing and eco-friendliness.

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Again, a Golden Bear trophy is going on my bar in the tasting room, but this beautiful framed resolution is going on the wall as soon as I can get Guinness to give it up.

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The wine that Guinness earned his Best of Show Sparkling bear trophy with is the NV McFadden Vineyard Cuvée Brut

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The NV McFadden Cuvée Brut also took a Double Gold Medal.

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The NV McFadden Cuvée Brut was rated 98 points.

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CALIFORNIA LEGISLATURE Assembly RESOLUTION By the Honorable Wesley Chesbro, 2nd Assembly District; and the Honorable Noreen Evans, 2nd Senatorial District; Relative to commending GUINNESS McFADDEN WHEREAS, On June 24, 2014, NV McFadden Sparkling Brut, a wine produced by McFadden Vineyard, will receive the California State Fair Best of Show Sparkling Award, and upon this occasion, the owner of McFadden Vineyard, Guinness McFadden, is deserving of special public recognition; and WHEREAS, Growing up the oldest of five children in the upper west side of New York City, New York, Guinness McFadden turned down an Ivy League scholarship in 1956 to attend the University of Notre Dame, where he received his Bachelor’s degree in History and participated on the varsity wrestling team; and WHEREAS, After graduating, Guinness enlisted with the United States Navy; serving for nine years,his notable activities during this time included serving a tour in the Mediterranean, where he developed his love for wine; captaining a river boat in Vietnam, where he learned fluent Vietnamese and earned a Bronze Star medal; and serving as an admiral’s aid in Lisbon, Portugal, where he again acquired the native tongue; and WHEREAS, After leaving the Navy, Guinness returned to the United States in 1969 and enrolled at Stanford Business School; after a brief period, he realized that his interests would be best served elsewhere, and he ultimately settled down in a Potter Valley, Mendocino County, California; and WHEREAS, McFadden Vineyard originated in Potter Valley as nothing more than two small vineyards that were each no larger than 15 acres; today, Guinness’ business encompasses some of the oldest vines of the nearly 1,500 acres of vineyards in Potter Valley, and his grapes have represented a significant portion of many award-winning wines in Napa, Sonoma, and Mendocino counties; and WHEREAS, A community leader whose unwavering dedication to organic farming has continued for over 40 years, Guinness supplemented his Eco-friendly vision of sustainable agriculture in 1983 by building a hydroelectric power plant capable of powering 100 homes, and in 2005, he installed 300 solar panels to make the farm completely energy independent; McFadden Farm now produces energy far beyond its own needs and provides enough extra to power over half of Potter Valley’s businesses and residences; and WHEREAS, The contributions Guinness McFadden has made to the welfare and improvement of the local agricultural community have been invaluable, and he has served as a worthy model for all public-spirited people of the State; now, therefore, be it RESOLVED BY ASSEMBLY MEMBER WESLEY CHESBRO AND SENATOR NOREEN EVANS, That Guinness McFadden be commended for the significant contributions he has made to the people of the local community and throughout California, and extended sincere best wishes for continued success in the future. Members Resolution No. 1464 Dated this 24th day of June, 2014 Honorable Wesley Chesbro 2nd Assembly District Honorable Noreen Evans 2nd Senatorial District

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Huge thanks to Honorable Wesley Chesbro 2nd Assembly District and Honorable Noreen Evans 2nd Senatorial District, and the folks in their offices, who made this happen, and helped surprise Guinness McFadden, a man richly deserving of your kind recognition

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Guinness will have a big party at McFadden Farm on Saturday, July 12 from 5:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. and will release his newest bubbly, a Brut Rosé. BBQ Dinner, wine, bubbly, live music, D.J., dancing, camping overnight if you wish. $60, or $50 for McFadden wine club members. For more info or tickets, visit http://www.mcfaddenfarm.com/Annual-Wine-Club-Dinner-_p_73.html

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Guinness flew in for this award from Kentucky where he saw his newest grandchild for the first time, and to celebrate the third, and littlest, Guinness McFadden

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Wine Spectator magazine published a list of 150 Summer Sparkling Wines, but didn’t include McFadden Brut, even though 20 of the 23 included bubblies were beat by two, not one but two, McFadden Sparkling Bruts at the 2014 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition. One of the 23 tied our Bruts with a Double Gold. Two bubblies beat our Bruts, taking co-Best of Sparkling awards. The other 127 bubblies didn’t compete, maybe because they already get listed in magazines instead. Did I mention that a McFadden Brut was judged Best of Show at the 2014 California State Fair Commercial Wine Competition, beating all competition? We would love to be considered by Wine Spectator magazine in the future. What’s a guy got to do, send an invite to our annual wine club dinner to the guy making the lists? Already done, still waiting for a response.

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If you visit the McFadden Farm Stand & Tasting Room in Hopland, the highest rated tasting room in over five years of San Francisco Chronicle tasting room reviews, you’ll find more than  highly rated, award winning wines and bubblies; McFadden has organic grass fed beef, organic air dried herbs and herb blends, and so much more seasonal goodness from organic and family owned McFadden Farm.

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A man and his bear trophy, and his resolution.

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Ed St. John collects his Golden Bear Trophy for the 2013 Pedroncelli Signature Selection Dry Creek Valley Dry Rosé of Zinfandel, winner of Best of Show Pink, a Double Gold, and a 98 Point Rating from the 2014 CA State Fair Wine Competition

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Carol Shelton has won many awards over the years from the California State Fair, and has judged at the competition – and others – as well.

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I first met Carol at Windsor Vineyards, where she made wine and I developed a successful tradeshow program. Maya’s monologue in the middle of the movie Sideways could have been inspired by Carol describing her wines to folks new to them, the passion and love are palpable, her energy infectious.

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Everyone, upon hearing that Carol won a CA State Fair Best of Show award assumes it is for her Zinfandel, but are pleasantly surprised to find she is back to making white wine…huge medal white wine

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There is a chance, my fingers are crossed, that Carol may make a Wild Thing White to go with her Mendocentric Wild Thing Zin (red) and Wild Thing Rosé. If things work out, it could be based on McFadden Farm Sauvignon Blanc grapes.

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Best of Show White goes to the 2012 Carol Shelton Wines Coquille Blanc, a Rhone style white blend. Deservedly, it also took a Double Gold Medal and a 98 point rating at the 2014 California State Fair Commercial Wine Competition

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Harry Hansen of Sterling Vineyards receiving his Golden Bear trophy.

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Sterling Vineyards has made both Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling from McFadden Farm grapes.

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The 2010 Sterling Vineyards Platinum Napa Valley Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon earned 98 points, a Double gold Medal, and the Best of Show Red Golden Bear trophy

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Navarro Vineyards of Mendocino County was called back up the steps to receive another Golden Bear award trophy, having earned the title “Golden State Winery of the Year”

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Fetzer of Hopland in Mendocino County did not show up to pick up their Golden Bear trophy for their 2011 Fetzer Valley Oaks Moscato, judged Best Value Wine at the competition, at $7.99 for a Double Gold & 98 Pointer. If Jim and Ted were to pick it up and take it to them on the way back home, they could have practiced juggling three Golden Bear trophies.

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Navarro richly earned the Golden State Winery of the Year award with three, count ‘em, I said three wines scoring 98 Points and taking Double Gold Medals. Congratulations to our friends from the Anderson Valley.

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Mendocino County wineries earned 4 of the 7 Golden Bear Trophies awarded from the California State Fair for wine: Navarro – Golden State Winery of the Year, Navarro – Best of Show Dessert, McFadden – Best of Show Sparkling, and Fetzer – Best Value; 98 points and Double Gold, each and every one of them. When will the wine press begin to report regularly on the supreme quality of Mendocino grapes, county wide? Perhaps when our county tourism groups and grape promotion groups get the budget to market the news. The wineries are doing their part.

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Jim Klein, winemaker, and Ted Bennett, owner, Navarro Vineyards, California State Fair Golden State Winery of the Year and Best of Show Dessert award recipients.

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Cameras were present to record the Mendo magic in Sacramento

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Jim, you described step by step how you make your Dry Rosé of Pinot Noir at this year’s Pinot Noir fest in Anderson Valley. It is amazing, and I would love Guinness to make something like your rosé from his Potter Valley grapes. My notes are woefully incomplete. Would you consider sharing again?

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Seana and Dave with their dual Golden Bear trophies

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Guinness McFadden reads his resolution

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Ted and Jim answer questions from the collected press

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Mitch and Carol enjoy their wonderful white wine win

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Shelton, McFadden, St. John…Hey, where’s the Italian names?

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The Golden Bear recipients from this year’s CA State Fair Wine Competition

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Ted, Jim, Carol, Guinness, Ed, Seana, Dave, and Harry

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Congratulations to Bleating Heart Cheese of Tomales. It’s official, you’re winners, hard or soft.

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Bennett, Klein, Shelton, McFadden, St. John, Doughty, Dalton, and Hansen

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Harry Hansen, Best of Show Red, Sterling Vineyards

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Ted and Jim’s Excellent Adventure

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Guinness McFadden, Golden Bear Trophy Winner and Joint Legislature Resolution Presentee

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Bronze Star, Bear, Resolution; it’s got to be Guinness

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It was nice to see Guinness moved by the presentation, and I am genuinely grateful to everyone who helped pull it together in the very limited time we had

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Guinness was floored at the depth of research that went into the resolution.

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No more ribbons, McFadden wants Golden Bears from now on. Okay, seriously, everyone here was humbled, honored, moved by the ceremony and incredibly thankful to everyone who made it possible

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John On Wine ­ – The column from Yuma

Originally published June 13, 2014 in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper

The 2014 Orange County Fair Commercial Wine Competition, put on each year by the Orange County Wine Society is one of the largest and most respected wine competitions held each year. Entry to wineries is free, where most competitions charge $60 to $80 per wine entered, and this year’s 30th annual event saw 2,323 wine entries. Gold medals were awarded to 345 wines and only 38 wines ­ just over 1-1/2 percent of all wines entered – received the rare special recognition 4 Star Gold Medal, a unanimous vote for Gold from all judges and the equivalent of a Double Gold medal from other wine competitions.

These are the wines using Mendocino County grapes that earned one of these highest awards:

McFadden 2011 White Riesling Mendocino County, Potter Valley, Late Harvest;

Navarro Vineyards 2012 Syrah Mendocino;

Paul Dolan Vineyards 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon Mendocino County, Certified Organic;

Stephen & Walker Trust Winery Ltd. 2012 Chardonnay Mendocino Ridge, Limited Release, Botrytised;

Yorkville Cellars 2011 Sparkling Wine “Cuvee Brut”, Mendocino County Rennie Vineyard & Randall Hill Vineyard Certified Organic The Yorkville Cellars. Sparkling Brut was also selected as the Best of Class wine in the Premium Sparkling wines category. I should have a list of all the gold medals out of Orange County, plus results of the 2014 California State Fair are due soon and I’ll post more top awards from both of these competitions as I receive them.

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Last night, as I write this, I was backstage at The Joint at the Hard Rock in Las Vegas for the last show of Guns n’ Roses’ residency. Andrew Dice Clay did a surprise guest set before Nic Cage announced the band and Axl Rose and the gang took the stage at midnight playing nonstop until just past three in the morning. I saw many things that would make wine tastings considerably more interesting if incorporated in our tasting rooms. With elevating platforms, laser lights, pole dancers, pyrotechnics, and confetti cannons, I am confident that inland Mendocino winery tasting rooms could quickly outdraw Napa tasting rooms. I’m pretty sure the show would be the talk of Hopland Passport for years to come.

Now, and as you read this, I’m in Yuma, Ariz. with my brother visiting our stepfather. I was at a super-sized supermarket today and visited the wine aisles. Underneath a sign for Syrah and Petite Sirah were Riesling and Moscato, and the entire Zinfandel section was stocked with pink wines. I’m not in wine country anymore. There were no wines in two long aisles with a Mendocino County appellation. With temperatures well over 100 degrees all week, I do understand the pink and white wines in place of red wines on the shelves here; folks are going to drink a whole lot more chilled wines — maybe even wine with ice cubes — than big dry red wines. It is already plenty dry enough here in the desert. I have to be honest, there is very little wine forecast for me this week, but plenty of Bloody Marys and Budweiser.

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Recently, I wrote about the June 28 dinner at the Little River Inn to celebrate the release of eight 2011 vintage Coro Mendocino wines. Since then the menu was sent out, and it looks so good that I had to share it with you: Dinner menu prepared by Chef Marc Dym, hosted by the Coro Mendocino Winemakers.

Passed Appetizer Course – Taste a showcase of each winery’s sparkling, white and rosé wines with a trio of chilled shooters: tomato consommé w/ grilled steak and chives; sweet pea pureé w/ Dungeness crab & truffle oil; and cucumber vichyssoise w/ gulf shrimp and lemon oil during the cocktail hour.

Soup Course paired with the 2011 Coro wines from McFadden Farm, Clos du Bois Winery and Testa Vineyards – Seafood cioppino terrine: Dungeness crab, green lip mussels, and fish with traditional San Francisco cioppino garnishes.

Middle Course paired with the 2011 Coro wines from Brutocao Cellars, Golden Vineyards & Parducci Wine Cellars – Smoked duck breast salad: local greens, Mission figs, burrata cheese, almonds, Dijon & balsamic reduction

Entrée Course paired with 2011 Coro wines from Fetzer Vineyards & Barra of Mendocino – Confit pork osso buco: slow cooked pork shanks with saffron risotto, grilled broccolini & fennel tomato demi-glace.

Dessert – Sable Breton biscuit with warm blackberry compote and Penny Royal Laychee fresh goat milk cheese.

Seating is limited; Reservations are required. The cost is $500 per couple, so call the Little River Inn to secure your place at the dinner, (707) 937-5942. Every time I write $500 for dinner, I cringe. Every time I mention it in my tasting room to new folks, they cringe. Then I explain that the $500 is for two dinners, a couple, and includes one complete set of the Coro wines. Eight bottles of 2011 Coro Mendocino at $40 makes for a $90 dinner per person, for five amazing course, complete with spectacular wine. Maybe if you tell em John sent you, they’ll pour the three time Double/4 Star Gold Medal winning bubbly during the cocktail hour. Coro dinner – it’s a bargain.

 

 

Today, the 2013 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition announced the medals that judges awarded the wines that were submitted this year. The SFCWC is the “big daddy” of wine competitions, and today’s announcement was highly anticipated by the wineries competing for awards.

I am concentrating on the wineries and tasting rooms along Highway 101 in Mendocino county’s inland corridor this year, from Hopland to Redwood Valley and Ukiah to Potter Valley. Some folks call this the Upper Russian River wine area, and is quieter than Mendocino County’s more heavily promoted wine area, the Anderson Valley. With a greater variety of micro-climates, Mendocino County’s inland corridor wineries produce medal winning wines across a greater number of wine varietals.

This is the list of awards earned by Mendocino County’s inland corridor wineries, where the wine label indicated the wine was made from the county’s grapes. There were many wines from inland corridor wineries that I did not list here; although they were excellent award winning wines, they were made with grapes from a neighboring county, or were self-identified as North Coast or California wine.

BEST OF CLASS – White Dessert RS>4.0
McFadden Vineyard 2011 Potter Valley McFadden Farm Riesling $18.00

DOUBLE GOLD – Chardonnay – $15.00 to $19.99
McFadden Vineyard 2011 Potter Valley McFadden Farm $16.00
DOUBLE GOLD – Grenache
Jaxon Keys Winery 2010 Mendocino Jon Vinecent $15.00

GOLD – Chardonnay – $15.00 to $19.99
Kimmel Vineyards 2011 Potter Valley Kimmel Vineyards $19.00
GOLD – Chardonnay – $30.00 to $34.99
Kimmel Vineyards 2010 Potter Valley Kimmel Vineyards $32.00
GOLD – Pinot Blanc
Girasole Vineyards 2011 Mendocino $13.00
GOLD – Pinot Noir – up to $19.99
Weibel Vineyards & Winery 2010 Potter Valley Weibel Family $16.95
GOLD – Merlot- $15.00 to $19.99
Bonterra Vineyards 2010 Mendocino County $15.99
GOLD – Cabernet Sauvignon – $40.00 to $49.99
Kimmel Vineyards 2010 Potter Valley Kimmel Vineyards $48.00
GOLD – Petit Verdot
Terra Savia 2009 Mendocino Sanel Valley Vineyards $22.00
GOLD – Red Dessert – RS>4.0
Jaxon Keys Winery 2010 Mendocino Port Dessert Wine $25.00

SILVER – Dry Sparkling
McFadden Vineyard NV Potter Valley McFadden Farm Sparkling Brut Cuvee $25.00
SILVER – Sauvignon Blanc or Fume – up to $13.99
Bonterra Vineyards 2011 Mendocino County $13.99
Brutocao Cellars 2011 Mendocino Feliz Estate $12.99
SILVER – Sauvignon Blanc or Fume – $14.00 to $19.99
Fetzer Vineyards 2011 Mendocino County Mendo $15.99
Patianna Organic Vineyards 2011 Mendocino Estate Organic Grapes $16.99
SILVER – Chardonnay – $10.00 to $14.99
Bonterra Vineyards 2011 Mendocino County $13.99
Naughty Boy Vineyards 2011 Potter Valley Thornton Ranch $14.50
SILVER – Chardonnay – $15.00 to $19.99
Brutocao Cellars 2011 Mendocino Bliss Estate $16.00
SILVER – Gewurztraminer
McFadden Vineyard 2011 Potter Valley McFadden Farm $16.00
McFadden Vineyard 2009 Potter Valley McFadden Farm $16.00
SILVER – Viognier – Up to $19.99
Bonterra Vineyards 2011 Mendocino County $13.99
SILVER – Viognier – $20.00 & Over
Campovida 2011 Mendocino County Campovida Estate $36.00
SILVER – White Blends Over $15.00
Jaxon Keys Winery 2011 Mendocino Farmhouse White $15.00
SILVER – Dry Rose – RS<1%
Naughty Boy Vineyards 2011 Potter Valley Naughty Boy Vnyds Dry Rose of Zinfandel $16.00
SILVER – Pinot Noir – up to $19.99
Fetzer Vineyards 2011 Mendocino County $19.99
SILVER – Pinot Noir – $20.00 to $24.99
Barra of Mendocino 2010 Mendocino $20.00
SILVER – Pinot Noir – $40.00 to $49.99
Jeriko Estate 2011 Mendocino Estate $48.00
SILVER – Zinfandel – up to $19.99
Bliss Family Vineyards 2009 Mendocino Estate $12.99
Bonterra Vineyards 2010 Mendocino County $15.99
Jaxon Keys Winery 2010 Mendocino $18.00
Weibel Vineyards & Winery 2009 Mendocino Weibel Family $16.95
SILVER – Zinfandel – $20.00 to $24.99
Jaxon Keys Winery 2010 Mendocino Maes Block $24.00
Jaxon Keys Winery 2009 Mendocino Ettas Block $20.00
SILVER – Zinfandel – $25.00 to $29.99
McNab Ridge Winery 2009 Mendocino Cononiah Vineyards $26.00
SILVER – Syrah/Shiraz- $20.00 to $24.99
Jaxon Keys Winery 2010 Mendocino Anna Mac $20.00
SILVER – Petite Sirah – Up to $19.99
McNab Ridge Winery 2010 Mendocino County $18.00
SILVER – Petite Sirah – $20.00 & Over
Parducci Wine Cellars 2008 Mendocino County $28.99
SILVER – Merlot – $10.00 to $ 14.99
Parducci Wine Cellars 2010 Mendocino County $10.99
SILVER – Cabernet Sauvignon – up to $14.99
Bliss Family Vineyards 2010 Mendocino Estate $12.99
Parducci Wine Cellars 2009 Mendocino County $10.99
SILVER – Cabernet Sauvignon – $15.00 to $19.99
Weibel Vineyards & Winery 2009 Redwood Valley Weibel Family $18.95
SILVER – Cabernet Sauvignon – $20.00 to $24.99
Brutocao Cellars 2009 Mendocino Contento Estate $22.00
SILVER – Cabernet Sauvignon – $25.00 to $29.99
Kimmel Vineyards 2010 Potter Valley Four Blocks $26.00
SILVER – Cabernet Sauvignon – $40.00 to $49.99
McNab Ridge Winery 2009 Mendo, Napa, Sonoma $40.00
SILVER – Cabernet Franc
Albertina Wine Cellars 2009 Mendocino Zamarzly Family Vineyards $24.00
SILVER – Bordeaux Blends – up to $19.99
Terra Savia 2009 Mendocino Sanel Valley Vineyards Meritage $18.00
SILVER – All Red Blends – Up to $14.99
Bliss Family Vineyards NV Mendocino Schoolhouse Red $12.00

BRONZE – Semi Dry Sparkling
Terra Savia 2011 Mendocino Sanel Valley Vineyards Brut Rouge $23.00
Weibel Vineyards & Winery NV Mendocino County Weibel Family Brut $16.95
BRONZE – Sauvignon Blanc or Fume – $14.00 to $19.99
Jaxon Keys Winery 2011 Mendocino Cecil Keys $16.00
Paul Dolan Vineyards 2011 Potter Valley $17.99
BRONZE – Chardonnay – $10.00 to $14.99
Parducci Wine Cellars 2010 Mendocino County $10.99
BRONZE – Chardonnay – $15.00 to $19.99
Cesar Toxqui Cellars 2010 Mendocino Immigrant $18.00
Patianna Organic Vineyards 2010 Mendocino Estate Organic Grapes $16.99
BRONZE – Chardonnay – $20.00 to $24.99
Rivino Winery 2010 Mendocino Schrader Ranch Estate $22.00
BRONZE – Riesling – RS<1.49
Bonterra Vineyards 2010 Mendocino County White $13.99
McFadden Vineyard 2010 Potter Valley McFadden Farm $18.00
BRONZE – Pinot Gris/Pinot Grigio – $15.00 & Over
McFadden Vineyard 2011 Potter Valley McFadden Farm Pinot Gris $16.00
BRONZE – Pinot Noir – up to $19.99
Bliss Family Vineyards 2010 Mendocino Estate $15.99
Bonterra Vineyards 2011 Mendocino County $15.99
BRONZE – Pinot Noir – $25.00 to $29.99
Naughty Boy Vineyards 2009 Potter Valley Naughty Boy Vineyards $26.00
BRONZE – Zinfandel – up to $19.99
Patianna Organic Vineyards 2011 Mendocino Old Vine $19.99
BRONZE – Primitivo
Brutocao Cellars 2009 Mendocino Contento Estate $22.00
BRONZE – Italian Blends – Up to $24.99
Brutocao Cellars 2009 Mendocino Hopland Estate Quadriga $24.00
BRONZE – Syrah/Shiraz – up to $19.99
Jaxon Keys Winery 2010 Mendocino Sandra Syrah $18.00
BRONZE – Merlot – $10.00 to $ 14.99
Terra Savia 2009 Mendocino Sanel Valley Vineyards $13.50
BRONZE – Cabernet Sauvignon – $25.00 to $29.99
Parducci Wine Cellars 2010 Mendocino County $29.99
Yokayo 2010 Mendocino County $25.00
BRONZE – Bordeaux Blends – $20.00 to $29.99
Cesar Toxqui Cellars NV Mendocino Heirloom IV $24.00
BRONZE – Bordeaux Blends – $30.00 to $39.99
Milano Family Winery 2007 Mendocino Bells Echo Vineyard Echo $37.00
BRONZE – All Red Blends – Up to $14.99
Frey 2011 Redwood Valley Frey Field Blend $14.99
Weibel Vineyards & Winery NV Mendocino Road I Red Red Table Wine $9.95
BRONZE – All Red Blends – $25.00 – $34.99
Jaxon Keys Winery 2010 Mendocino Assemblage $28.00

Two things I noted: the winery I manage the tasting room for took the highest honors and, while many will rightly feel like winners, it seems to me that Potter Valley was the big winner with a nice haul of Best Of Class, Double Gold, and Gold Medals.

Coro is both Italian and Spanish for Chorus.

Coro Mendocino is a wine program unique in the entire United States, where geographically related wineries make wine following a protocol as is done in Bordeaux, Burgundy, Chianti, virtually everywhere throughout Europe, but nowhere else here. Each Coro Mendocino winery produces a wine featuring Zinfandel, the county’s heritage grape, and each wine contains between 40 and 70% Zinfandel, with the blending grapes being traditional Mendocino County blending grapes – typically Rhone or Italian varietals. The wines get blind tasted several times in panel tastings by the program winemakers, with the intent to make the best possible wines, and each wine must survive a pass/fail independent blind tasting to become Coro. There is more that goes into the program, but take my word for it, the Coro wines are as special as the program is unique, and the 2009 vintage Coro wines are spectacular, every single one. Ten wineries made a 2009 Coro Mendocino, no two are the same and the variations in style are amazing, ranging from lighter to big and dense.

Last night, Saturday June 23, 2012, the tiny town of Little River on the Mendocino Coast played host to the 2009 vintage Coro Release Party. The sold out dinner at the Little River Inn was a huge success as an event; the wines, food, and people gathered made for an incredibly memorable evening. The 2009 vintage was poured by ten wineries: Barra, Brutocao, Claudia Springs, Fetzer, Golden, Mendocino Vineyards, McFadden, McNab, Parducci, and Philo Ridge.

In perhaps the most absurd twist of fate, the best way to tell you about last night’s release party dinner for the 2009 vintage Coro Mendocino wines, and the entire Coro Mendocino program itself, is to tell you about an 11th wine that wasn’t poured.

I mentioned that a wine needs a “thumbs up” from a blind tasting panel to be called Coro. I didn’t point out that a “thumbs down” vote would mean not only do you not have a Coro, but because there isn’t the 75% minimum quantity required by labeling law you also don’t have a bottle you could call Zinfandel. As an example, if Guinness McFadden came up short in his Coro making efforts, he might be forced to call the resulting wine, “Guinness’s Random Red,” which is a much tougher sell, even at a lower price, than the quality assured Coro he might have hoped to make.

This year, Owen Smith of Weibel made a wine that was Coro in all respects. The wine adhered to the strict protocol of Consortium Mendocino – the collective name of the Coro producers, and had secured the all-important vote from the independent panel that allowed his wine to be called Coro.

In what Monte Hill, member of the Consortium board, described as a comedy of errors (tragedy of errors might be more accurate), two unfortunate events followed: special bottles used only for Coro were accidentally not ordered by another program winery for Weibel’s wine, and then while waiting for fulfillment of an emergency special bottle order, the wine changed through oxidation.

Weibel’s winemaker Smith made adjustments to the wine and saved it but, when tasted alongside the other 2009 Coro wines, he determined that the wine was no longer Coro. There is a high expectation of quality, and he felt his wine no longer met that high standard. Although the wine could very rightly have been called Coro, and Smith could have been insisted that it be labeled so, honor was paramount. Weibel and Smith both took a hit, but gained nothing but respect for their defense of the Coro program.

I’ve tasted Weibel’s 2009 almost-Coro wine, and while not Coro, I think it drinks nicely. I have suggested the wine be called Integrity and sell for around $15 alongside the other 2009 Coro wines.

Owen Smith and Weibel elevated every 2009 vintage Coro wine released last night, and I was thrilled to be able to sit between Owen and Guinness at the release dinner party, two of Consortium Mendocino’s best Coro winemakers – even if one may not see his name grace a Coro bottle.

Okay, now on to the fantastic event and the ten 2009 Coro wines that were there:

The five course sixth annual Coro Producers Release Party Dinner started with a passed appetizer tartar trio of wild king salmon gravlax with sweet onion and dill aioli, red beet with goat cheese and cilantro vinaigrette, and cherrywood cold smoked sturgeon with cucumber chives and crème fraiche, paired with sparkling, white and rosé selections from the Coro producers.

The saltiness of the goat cheese and earthiness of the beets paired nicely with many of the rosé wines poured, and the smoked sturgeon was reminiscent of many of Mendocino County’s 2008 vintage wines.

Non Coro wines poured at the reception that captured my attention included  the 2011 McNab Ridge Rosé of Syrah, 2011 Barra Pinot Noir Rosé, Parducci’s Rosé of Grenache & Zinfandel, 2010 Bonterra Sauvignon Blanc (I absolutely loved it), NV (2009) McFadden Sparkling Brut (this poured out in no time), and 2011 McNab Ridge French Colombard.

Margaret Pedroni, Consortium board member and marketing powerhouse, met with Little River Inn Chef Marc Dym in advance to make sensible food and wine pairings. The Coro wines were split into three groupings, lighter, medium, and bigger.

Monte Hill was the evening’s master of ceremonies, and in his welcoming comments described Coro Mendocino as a “showcase for Mendocino Country’s heritage grape, Zinfandel.” Hill also described the cooperative winemaking process, with blind tastings starting in January with comments from each winemaker, offering constructive criticism and continuing through three more tastings before the big pass/fail tasting the following May.

The Consortium Mendocino is led by an elected officer, the Coro Commander. Commander George Phelan of Mendocino Vineyards commented that in addition to Chorus, “Coro also means community,” then introduced Monte Hill, Margaret Pedroni, and Julie Golden  “secretary and czar” from the board.

The first course paired the lighter styled 2009 Coro wines of McFadden, Mendocino Vineyards, and Brutocao with consummé of Little River shitake mushrooms with fennel and pork dumplings.

Our table included Guinness McFadden, his girlfriend Judith Bailey, two of Judith’s sisters and their husbands, and me – plus Monte Hill and his wife Kay, and Owen Smith. With seven strong McFadden fans at our table (I manage the McFadden tasting room in Hopland), we probably should have had a second bottle of McFadden Coro. I thought it had a lovely cherry noted easy drinkability, and while it paired great with the consummé, I would love to have had some McFadden Coro remaining to try with the second course’s pork belly.

Guinness McFadden said that his farm produces cool climate Zinfandel, and the lighter style McFadden Coro tasted great with the consummé. McFadden also noted that while Phelan is the Coro Commander, Julie Golden does so much work for the Consortium that “Golden is really the Coro Admiral, as Admirals outrank Commanders.”

The second course paired the medium weight 2009 Coro wines from McNab Ridge, Philo Ridge, Golden, and Barra with Coleman natural pork belly with wilted escarole and soft creamy polenta. I love pork belly and polenta, and really enjoyed this entire flight of wines.

The Entrée paired the bigger 2009 Coro wines from Claudia Springs, Fetzer, and Parducci with “cinghiale” wild boar ragout over pappardelle pasta with red chile garlic broccolini.

Bob Klindt of Claudia Springs spoke about the experience of making a Coro, the fellowship, the experience of offering somewhat harsh criticism of a wine in blind tasting only to find it was his own wine that he felt needed improvement.

I have heard the exact same thing from nearly all of the Coro producers at one time or another. The humbling experience of offering yourself notes for improvement in early blind tastings of your own Coro candidate wine.

Zindanelia Arcidiacono, better known as Z, and Coro winemaker for Fetzer, spoke of the experience of making the best wine she could, of putting so much of herself into the process, that now she could invite us to taste Z in the glass.

I think of Coro wines as brilliant food wines as the different grapes blended in with the base Zinfandel add more flavor notes allowing for pairing magic. Claudia Springs’ Coro stood out for me because it was so  big and “Zinny,” tasting the most like a big Zin and least like a blend. I also loved the smooth rich integrated oak meeting rich supple fruit in Fetzer’s Coro.

Dessert was an olallieberry galette with meyer lemon curd and was enjoyed with whatever Coro wine you wanted to pour with it.

Chef Marc Dym, of the Little River Inn, put together an incredibly successful meal around the various wines being featured.

I liked every 2009 vintage Coro Mendocino, each and every one richly deserving of the name, all perfect ambassadors for Mendocino County’s grape growing and wine making prowess.
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If you missed the 2009 vintage release dinner party, there is another opportunity to taste these excellent Coro Mendocino wines in a special showcase event:

Join the Consortium Mendocino at the 2009 Coro Wines Farm to Table Dinner for an evening of great food and wine, followed by dancing under the stars late into the night on the bank of the upper Russian River, Saturday, August 18, 2012, 5:30 PM – 11:00 PM AT McFadden Farm, 16000 Powerhouse Road, Potter Valley, CA 95469. Tickets are $125 per couple, $65 per single. The stars of the evening, the 2009 vintage of Coro Mendocino wines, will be paired with grilled organic grass fed McFadden Farm beef and seasonal local farm fare. Each Coro Mendocino producer will bring a white, rose, or sparkling wine to complement the organic farm to table fare as well. Seating is limited, call to secure your spot today; McFadden Farm Stand & Tasting Room, (707) 744-8463.

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I’m going to join Steve Jaxon tomorrow, Monday, June 25, 2012 at 5:00pm on his KSRO 1350 AM show The Drive With Steve Jaxon. We’ll taste wines and talk about the annual McFadden Wine Club Dinner at McFadden Farm on July 14 and the 2009 Coro Wine Farm To Table Dinner at McFadden Farm on August 18. We’ll taste McFadden wines and Coro wines from various producers and give away a pair of tickets to each event sometime between 5:00pm and 6:00pm, so listen in on the radio or streaming live at http://www.KSRO.com

The town of Hopland in California’s Mendocino county is on Highway 101, 101 miles north of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge.

The town is rural, with a small town charm comprised in part by a measure of genuineness that city people who work and live in cubicles flee to find.

Hopland, named long ago for the hops grown and kilned to make the area’s beers, is now a town better associated with wines.

16 winery tasting rooms are located in or near the center of Hopland, and wineries from 15 miles north in larger Ukiah, Mendocino county’s county seat, are trying to join Hopland’s tourism group and be considered Hopland wineries and take part in Hopland wine events.

Wine is made from grapes and grapes are grown by farmers. It is the growing of grapes, the farming in the area, that best gives Hopland the down home character visitors perceive. Unlike the amusement park environment of boutiques and high end restaurants found in the counties to the south, Hopland has a few basic eateries, filled with real working men and women.

Hopland’s grapes are grown in an area also known as the Sanel Valley. There is no monolithically thought of grape grown in Hopland’s Sanel Valley, because the area is as diverse as the roughly individualistic farmers who make their living off the land.

With vineyards on the rocky slopes of Duncan Peak to vineyards on the bank of the upper Russian River, head pruned and trellised, irrigated and dry farmed, organically grown or raised biodynamically, planted to field blends or single varietal, the myriad grapes that are grown and the multitude of styles of wine produced from each of these different varietals makes for the greatest concentrated diverse wine tasting experience in the United States.

Of note is the greenness of the offerings in and around Hopland. In an industry where many supermarket brands of wine are made from plastic fertilizers, toxic pesticides, and poisonous insecticides, mass produced in environmentally hazardous monocultures, where only 2 percent of wineries produce wines made from certified organically grown or certified biodynamically raised grapes, roughly 25% of all the wines poured in Hopland’s tasting rooms are genuinely green.

As Pam Strayer wrote on Organic Wine Uncorked, “Wines made with pesticides contribute more than 450,000+ pounds of Roundup to California each year. That just can’t be a good thing for an ecosystem.”

I’m biased, working for McFadden Vineyard, but here’s the way all wineries should strive to be: McFadden Farm up in nearby Potter Valley not only grows 750 tons of grapes organically every year but is a family farm, growing and air drying organic herbs, raising organic grass fed beef, selling 100% pure wild rice, and more green, healthy, farm treats. With both solar panels and a hydroelectric plant on property, McFadden Farm has to look behind them to find the wineries that brag about being carbon neutral.

Okay, stepping off my soapbox, I have to say that McFadden Farm produces fewer than 5,000 cases of wine and the efforts of a million case winery to be carbon neutral are substantially more involved than for what is more a Farm than a winery.

Parducci Wine Cellars, a Ukiah winery with a satellite tasting room in Hopland at the Solar Living Institute, has a commitment to the environment, a passion that is palpable, and is a shining example that doing things green, the right way, can actually end up saving money as the focus on reuse, reduce, and recycle ends up costing less than wasteful use and unnecessary spending.

Parducci is a huge winery. Their wines are uniformly delicious. They are carbon neutral. Relying on natural compost has allowed better tasting wines from healthier vineyards as unnatural fertilizers have been eliminated, and at a substantial cost savings. Similarly, reclaiming and naturally filtering all run off water from operations has made for a healthy ecologically diverse biome in the midst of their home vineyards, while reducing consumption of water – again, generating a cost savings.

Fetzer Vineyards is the 800 pound gorilla of Hopland area wineries, and was recently bought by Concha y Toro, a Chilean wine company demonstrating terrific green business sense with Fetzer. Fetzer produces millions of cases of wine, and this year I saw more organic grapes headed to Fetzer from local family vineyards than ever before. Of course, I believe that certified organic grapes make great wine, but the energy savings in sourcing as much of your needed grapes locally for a giant winery like Fetzer, as trucks travel shorter distances and use less fuel, is enormous.

Occasionally, I taste wines at events with other wine writers, and I abhor the elite wine snobbery I too often hear when the wines of Fetzer are discussed. Because Fetzer’s wines are produced in enormous quantities and are widely available throughout the country in stores and restaurants, there is a bias against Fetzer; the assertion being that good wine, wine worthy of tasting, can only come from small hand crafted wines with limited distribution costing an arm and a leg.

Let me call bullshit on that. I will agree that spending five times what you would spend on a bottle of Fetzer’s wines will allow you to select a spectacular bottle of wine – if you know what you are doing. You can easily spend an enormous amount on a not very good bottle of wine if you don’t know what you are doing, but you can’t buy a bad bottle of Fetzer wine and buying affordable wine rocks.

I was sent a six bottle assortment of Fetzer wines last year, and was impressed with the quality of the wines. The Riesling, which I have heard described as cloyingly sweet by people who admitted not having tasted one from Fetzer in over a decade, had the petrol notes I associate with quality collectable Rieslings costing much more and terrific balance between sweet notes and acid. All of the wines were good, well structured, all were drinkable, and all had fantastic QPR, or Quality/Price Ratio – they are great value wines.

The only knock I have with Fetzer, and something I imagine Concha y Toro will address in time, is that they don’t have a Hopland tasting room.

I would love to see a tasting room, right on highway 101 in downtown Hopland, where Fetzer could pour their wines. The wines of their all-organic sister winery Bonterra could be poured in the same location. Allowing people to taste wines regularly lets folks know how good the wines really are.

Another Hopland vineyard and winery without a Hopland tasting room is Topel Winery. Mark and Donnis Topel make some amazingly great wine, but chose to situate their tasting room in a location with greater traffic.

I shared a table with Mark at a wine event last year, and it worked out great, as I poured McFadden’s Sparkling Brut, amazing white wines, and delicious reds, and Mark poured his spectacular reds which are denser than McFadden’s style. The result was pretty nice as there was a compatible flow.

Mark and Donnis saw to it that I had the opportunity to taste their wines last year, dropping off a bottle here and there. I also tasted a half dozen Topel Winery wines during the event we worked together.

I once described the red wines of Topel Winery as being possibly the best from Hopland, but that is unfair to Topel’s wines. Mark and Donnis produce some of the best wines anywhere. Lush, dense, rich, multi noted, yet completely drinkable. Gorgeously balanced wines. I love the Cabernet Sauvignon, Meritage, and Estate Blend red wines from Topel Winery.

Every vineyard, every winery, every tasting room in Hopland has a story to tell. I hope to tell a few of those stories this year – better yet, capture the words of the farmers, winemakers, and tasting room managers and pass them on along with some notes on some of the great wines being poured in Hopland.

Local Hopland Wine Notes:

I had the opportunity to visit winery tasting rooms other than my own in the last week.

Right in Hopland, I visited SIP! Mendocino and Bernadette poured me some wines. Using a Jedi mind trick, she grabbed a bottle, and waving her hand at me said, “you’re going to like this.” Of course, I did like it, and bought a bottle of the 2008 Tahto Petite Sirah, Potter Valley. Deep rich dark berry, herb, chocolate and spice, nicely integrated.

The next day, I returned to SIP! and tasted with Angela, running into Gary Krimont and Hopland’s own Kit, co-owner of the Superette grocery store in Hopland. I tasted a couple of Rhone offerings, a Grenache and a Syrah, both were yummy, but really an appetizer for what came next.

We scooted next door to Cesar Toxqui’s tasting room. There is a big buzz surrounding Cesar and his wines. After having made wines for many local wineries, Cesar started making wines for himself as well. In a tasting room more relaxed than most, Cesar, with Gary’s help, poured his way through his wines. I tasted wines of depth, fullness, character. Starting with solid grapes, the fermenting juice is punched down twice a day by hand with extended maceration. If you don’t speak wine geek, that means Cesar wrings the grapes and skins for all the best flavor they will yield.

Everything I tasted was delicious, from Cesar’s Chardonnay and Pinot Noir to his Zinfandel and Heirloom, a wine that has a little of the previous Heirloom blended into it, which itself had a little of the previous vintage blended in, and so on, so that the wine you taste is a wine of all time, a magic representation of everything Cesar has done from day one. There is a rumor that Heirloom III will be unveiled at this weekend’s Spring Hopland Passport.

After tasting the 2009 Cesar Tozqui Cellars Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley and 2009 Cesar Tozqui Cellars Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley side by side, I was surprised to find the Anderson Valley Pinot from Mendocino County was drinking more beautifully, was more velvety, than the Russian River Valley Pinot from Sonoma County grapes. I grew up on Dry Creek Valley Cabs and Zins and Russian River Valley Pinots, and developed a “house palate,” preferring the tastes of the wines grown in the places I grew up. If I had been asked to guess which wine was which, based on taste alone, I would have guessed wrong, because I am prejudiced to prefer Russian River Valley Pinots. My second favorite AVA for Pinot Noir is the Anderson Valley, so the side by side tasting was both a treat and instructive.

I bought a bottle of Cesar’s Anderson Valley Pinot Noir, forgetting that there is a generous reciprocal inter winery discount for the tasting room staff of the Hopland wineries. I was doubly thrilled with my purchase after the discount.

The next day, after closing up my tasting room, I headed to Jaxon Keys for an inter winery mixer.

Jaxon Keys is a Wilson winery. Ken and Diane Wilson own some premier winery properties in Sonoma County, and bought and renamed the Jepson winery and distillery, hired Fred Nickel, a knowledgeable and skilled local winemaker, to increase the quality of the wines, and moved the tasting room from a low shed like building to a huge, lovely old estate house on a hill overlooking the vineyards.

Vicki Milone played host to tasting room staff from several Hopland area wineries, with folks coming from Dry Creek Valley wineries in Sonoma County as well. Everyone brought food, and wine, and shared a nice two hours of relaxed fellowship.

The yummiest food treat, which I will be stealing without reservation, was cream and blue cheese with orange marmalade infused figs and toasted pecans on a round pastry. It turns out the round pastry was from Pillsbury giant crescent rolls, sliced while and remaining rolled. Thank you Bev for bringing the taste treat – for me – of the night and sharing where the recipe came from. I will be making these for a future Second Saturday in Hopland to pair with our wines at the tasting room.

I enjoyed a number of the wines Vicki poured and am looking forward to when more of Fred’s wines come on line.

At the mixer, I met Victor Simon, winemaker at Simaine in Ukiah. I will be visiting and tasting very soon.

I also had a bottle find me, instead of me going out to find it, last week. When I returned from a three day weekend, I found my dear friend Serena Alexi had brought a bottle of 2005 Wellington Vineyards Zinfandel, Sonoma Valley. I have not opened it yet, but I am sure to write nice things here when I do.

The folks at Brown-Forman in Kentucky who own Fetzer Vineyards in Hopland sent me six bottles a couple of months ago, but only four were delivered as two were damaged in transit. Although Concha y Toro in Chile is buying Fetzer, Maria from Brown-Forman contacted me today to see about replacing the two bottles. It is a mark of class, of professionalism, that a company that has effectively sold Fetzer already is continuing their first class marketing efforts on behalf of the brand.

Parducci, located in Ukiah, is opening a satellite tasting room in Hopland at the Solar Living Center. John March, who poured the wines of Magnanimus Wine Group at Campovida in Hopland, will be the tasting room manager of the new tasting room facility. I wondered aloud how a Ukiah winery with their own Ukiah tasting room was going to be pouring at this weekend’s Spring Hopland Passport weekend, and why every Ukiah or Redwood Valley winery couldn’t pour. I thought that the collaboration between Parducci and the Solar Living Center was a weekend fling, but am thrilled to welcome Parducci, a winery I love, and John March, a terrifically talented brand ambassador, to Hopland full time.

The Solar Living Center does attract a large share of hippie, marijuana smoking, young folk, and I suggested jokingly to John that he find out which Parducci wine pairs best with weed. That said, my tasting room is the closest to the new medical marijuana dispensary opening up in Hopland, and may I suggest that the 2007 McFadden Vineyard Coro Mendocino would go wonderfully with a nice bong load of Mendocino County’s sticky icky. I have to start practicing saying that with a hand wave, in my own Jedi mind trick style.

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Three Big Events:

This coming weekend, April 30 and May 1, there are two big wine events going on; Spring Hopland Passport, and Passport to Dry Creek Valley; plus Hospice du Rhone will be held April 28-30.

Although I question the sense, or dollars and cents, of spending $125 to visit 46 wineries, tickets are pretty much SOLD OUT for the Dry Creek Valley Passport. There is just no possible way to visit that many wineries. It doesn’t matter what each is offering if you can’t possibly experience it. That said, pick and choose your favorites, get swept up in the traffic and crowds, and enjoy some very delicious wines, paired with the delightful food treats.

Last year, I attended Spring Hopland Passport, took two full days, visited all the participating wineries, enjoyed some very delicious wines (100 of them) from 21 labels, paired with delightful food treats. I wrote a Spring Hopland Passport recap last year. Visit the official Hopland Passport site, where tickets can be bought for just $35, which seems a far more reasonable cost considering the number of wineries that can be visited in one or two days.

A few highlights of what a $35 Spring Hopland Passport ticket buys: Cesar Toxqui Cellars will offer authentic Filipino cuisine to pair with vertical tastings and barrel tastings. Jaxon Keys will have tri-tip sliders and live music by the Felt-Tips. Jeriko Winery will be roasting pig and chicken and have live acoustic music. McFadden Vineyard will pour all of their wines, run big two day only sales, and cook up organic grass fed cube steak from the McFadden Farm seasoned with grilling herbs, lemon pepper and garlic powder also grown organically at McFadden farm, McFadden Farm Wild Rice and artichoke heart salad, and a green salad with McFadden Farm organic salad herbs. McNab Ridge will be pouring current releases, barrel samples and a Coro vertical while offering a selection of dips and speads, marinated chicken thighs with grilled pineapple, and jumbo shrimp with a zesty horseradish cocktail sauce. Mendocino Farms wine will be poured at Campovida while Ken Boek leads garden tours and Les Boek and his band provide music. Milano Family Winery will be serving tri-tip and have live music by Marc Hansen. Nelson Vineyards will be offering up organic Mendough’s wood-fired pizza with their estate wines. Parducci’s wines will be paired with Magruder Ranch grass fed pulled pork and lamb sliders with Asian slaw while The Dirt Floor Band plays at the Real Goods Solar Living Institute. Saracina Vineyards wines will be paired with smoked chicken and porcini crepes, grilled hanger steak tartines, and beet spoons catered by Janelle Weaver, exec chef of Kuleto Estate Winery. Terra Savia will be pairing wine and olive oil tastings with Hawaiian fare while Hui Arago’s band plays Hawaiian music. Weibel Family Vineyards will be pairing wines with treats from Fork Catering. Thanks to Heidi Cusick Dickerson and Hopland Passport for pulling all of this information together. Ticket prices rise $10 on the day of the event, so pre-purchase your tickets online or at any Hopland winery tasting room.

The 19th Annual Hospice du Rhone will bring together over 1,000 Rhone wines from over 130 Rhone wine producers for three days in Paso Robles, CA. There are several events, tastings, seminars, meals, and you can pick and choose which events to buy tickets to with prices ranging from $100-$155, or you can buy a weekend package ticket for $795, getting you into most of the events.

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